When You Do (and Don't) Need to Take Your Pet to the Vet
Not every bump or scratch means a trip to the vet. Here's how to solve your pet's minor oh-nos at home—plus, how to tell when it's a true emergency.
As all pet owners know, our furry friends get banged up and bitten. Fortunately, many of these ailments are easily dealt with—if you know what to do in the moment. These tips will help you triage and treat like a pro.
If Fluffy takes a fall down the stairs...
What to do: “If the animal starts to limp but is still willing to put full weight on the leg, the likelihood of a break is pretty low,” says Edward Cooper, VMD, associate professor of small animal emergency and critical care at The Ohio State University. It’s probably a soft tissue injury, he says. Limit your pup’s activity for a few days (nix walks and park time). While it may seem helpful to give your pet an over-the-counter pain medicine, like aspirin or ibuprofen, don’t go there, cautions Dr. Cooper: "These medicines can cause ulcers in the stomach, damage to the kidney, and damage to the liver if not taken in the right dosage."
When to call the vet: If there is obvious swelling or your pet isn’t putting any weight on the limb, “more thorough evaluations and X-rays may be needed to see what might be wrong,” says Deborah Silverstein, DVM, associate professor of critical care at Penn Vet, the University of Pennsylvania’s school of veterinary medicine.
If you find a tick in Fido’s fur...
What to do: Good old-fashioned tweezers are the best way to remove these pests, says Dr. Silverstein. “Get right at the base of the tick and kind of shimmy it out so you can get the full head and body,” she explains. Once you’ve removed the tick, drop it in a small jar with isopropyl alcohol (which will kill it and keep it intact) and mark the jar with the date. If your pet shows symptoms of a tick-borne illness later, looking at the tick will help your vet make a diagnosis.
When to call the vet: While a single tick bite is rarely an urgent issue, if you notice fever, lethargy, joint pain, bleeding or small areas of bleeding under the skin (known as petechiae), see your vet to get your animal tested for diseases like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
If you cut your fur baby’s nail too short, causing bleeding...
What to do: Compress the area with an absorbent cloth or paper towel for about two to three minutes. Then use a styptic powder, like Kwik Stop ($11; amazon.com), which will help the blood coagulate faster.
When to call the vet: If heavy bleeding doesn’t stop after five minutes, “this could be a sign that the animal has an underlying bleeding disorder,” says Dr. Silverstein. Also call if your pet has an orthopedic or neurological condition that makes it drag its foot. ”More tests may be needed, along with pain relief medications, antibiotics or surgery,” notes Dr. Silverstein.
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3 times to call the vet ASAP
Serious injuries are scary, but knowing the phone number and address of your local emergency veterinary clinic ahead of time can save you precious seconds, points out Dr. Cooper. Jump into action in the following situations.
Your pet got hit by a car: Even if your pet can walk away, it should be seen immediately. Call the nearest emergency clinic and give a heads-up that you’re coming.
Your animal ate something suspicious: If your vet isn’t familiar with the toxin, he may suggest calling the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. (There’s a $65 consultation fee.)
The fur was flying: Warning: Trying to break up an animal fight puts you at risk of getting bitten. Once the fight is over and you’re able to get your pet away, bring it in to be checked out.